Doing the Right Thing While Doing Things Right- How to Improve Electric Utility Customer Satisfaction and Drive Productivity

Superior customer experience can make a utility’s service organization stand out to regulators, retain valuable customers and contribute top line revenue to shareholders. To accomplish this, you need to do the right thing while doing things right. The former affects satisfaction, and the latter affects productivity and efficiency.

Yet, the concept and execution of these goals can differ. Companies with good intentions often find that daily business demands take precedence where fighting operational fires takes their eyes off the vaunted goal of improving service, proactively maintaining infrastructure and driving customer satisfaction. One can succeed at one part of that equation-doing things right-but miss out on much of the benefit that should have been gained if one had failed to do the right thing.

In this case, doing the right thing could be the activities that led up to, or occurred just after, the successful service call when customer expectations and their provider’s delivery didn’t match. Whether it was the lack of sufficient customer choice for when a service call was requested or failure to update an ETA of a scheduled customer call during the day of service, falling short of customers’ expectations can have long-term negative implications.

Much like technology that has become common-from digital calendar reminders to automated bill payments-putting a little effort into planning and deploying a technology-driven service solution provides a significant return on investment in a short time. These returns include: enhanced regulatory compliance, lower cost to serve, decreased restoration time and cost, streamlined outage management, and, most important, improved customer satisfaction scores and the impact on rates and profitablity.

Consider the following scenarios:

  1. What if you could provide shorter appointment windows for customers with the same staffing level and skill?
  2. What if you also could accomplish the shorter appointment window with fewer missed appointments and service-level agreements (SLAs)?
  3. What if your infrastructure could leverage M2M notifications to schedule automatically a technician to repair it with the correct level of severity?
  4. What if you could leverage the M2M notification to schedule similar proactive repairs to adjoining equipment based on expected product life cycle data? (For example, you receive an automated notice regarding a burned-out street lamp on Smith Street, and the system determines that two adjoining lights were installed on the same date and are past their projected lifespans-and could be replaced efficiently while you are on-site.)
  5. What if consumers could receive proactive updates on their appointments via the communication channel of their choice (phone, text, email)?

These and more areas for efficiency, customer satisfaction and exceptional service can be realized by implementing the right technology and the right processes, namely by using mobile work force tools and best practices that address the organization’s needs and challenges to save significant expense. This can maximize staff efficiency and effectiveness and drive substantially higher customer satisfaction scores.

To compete and stand out from the competition, especially in retail environments, each element of a customer interaction or infrastructure service call must be handled successfully before, during and after the service task. Each activity includes moments during which decisions are made, schedules are created and techs are informed, routed and aligned based on their skills and locations. When handled successfully, your organization can master the moment and provide service that exceeds customers’ expectations. Each small moment leads up to the pinnacle moment, when the heat comes back on, the street is illuminated again or the storm damage is mitigated in record time. When this happens, you have just transformed your field staff from repair people into the best brand ambassadors your organization can have.

Although your service operation is measured by its day-of-service performance, a sophisticated mobile work force management solution can help exceed customers’ expectations throughout the entire life cycle of their service.

First, understand your top priorities from an organizational and customer standpoint. Then, map the following capabilities to those goals:

Optimizing service. Forecasting and planning capabilities to ensure proper work force coverage for your expected demand, including the ability to run “what-if” scenarios for emergencies.

Individual business user-defined, real-time performance measurements-coupled with predictive and prescriptive analytics-are required to identify opportunities to ensure continuous improvement.

Automating scheduling. Shift management to optimize employees’ availability to fit demand during the day of service, including contractual obligations and safety policies.

“- Scheduling and dispatch that assigns the right people to the right place, at the right moment, for every customer or task;

“- A scheduling algorithm that can handle in-day anomalies from cancelled appointments to bridge closures while maintaining schedule optimization; and

“- Efficient, street-level routing that can adjust schedules and learn daily traffic patterns to minimize nonproductive travel time.

Adding Intelligent Mobility

“- Extending mobile scheduling capabilities to contractors and other staff brought in to assist with emergencies, often on BYOD equipment;

“- After employees are in the field, comprehensive interconnectivity with intelligent and integrated mobile apps that enable remarkable service execution for every job, including intracompany chat capabilities;

“- Integration of new technologies such as wearables and augmented reality, including Google Glass into the solution to gain incremental efficiency or to access back-office documentation and schematics; and

“- Automated alerts that inform customers about the status of their appointments if the originally scheduled appointment window is in jeopardy.

Implementing a software solution, however, can go only so far. There must be a unilateral commitment from the top down and the bottom up to meet customer service and service productivity goals.

Service organizations that have embraced the change management processes in addition to a technology implementation can increase productivity 30 percent on average while increasing customer satisfaction.

When implemented correctly-often with incentives for exceptional service-customers win because their work is done correctly, on time and in acceptable appointment windows. Staff have access to all resources to do their jobs effectively, with less time spent in traffic or filling out paperwork. Customers come away happier feeling that the organization cares about them.

Happy customers facilitate rate discussions with regulators. Satisfied technicians reduce the expense of employee churn and enable knowledge sharing across the organization. This leads to improved financial performance and happier shareholders.

When an organization has the strategy, tools and solution to be on the right side of the service equation, everyone wins.

James Delande is a product marketing executive with ClickSoftware.

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